Lead exposure could trigger schizophrenia



Geodon users who have received treatment for schizophrenia might have a possible lead that explains the origins of the mental illness.

Geodon users who have received treatment for schizophrenia might have a possible lead that explains the origins of the mental illness. While the development of schizophrenia has commonly been associated through the passing of genetics, researchers have now found that early exposure to a certain chemical element could be one of the factors triggering the disease.

Scientists collaborating from Columbia University and John Hopkins University School of Medicine engineered a replica version of the human gene Disrupted-in-Schizophrenia-1, or DISC1, and then administered the duplicated gene into mice. The DISC1 gene is a main risk factor for schizophrenia in humans.

Half of the mice that had received the DISC1 gene were then given a diet consisting primarily of of lead, while the other half were presented with a normal diet. The mice that were exposed to the lead expressed higher levels of hyperactivity while also showing less ability to suppress a startle when subjected to a loud noise after being given an acoustic warning. The researchers also discovered that the lead fed mice had larger lateral ventricles in their brains, which are defined as empty spaces containing cerebrospinal fluid, a common symptom found in humans with schizophrenia.

Previous studies performed by the scientists had indicated that a link between lead exposure before birth in humans and an increased risk for schizophrenia throughout their life, but the question still remained regarding how the lead was able to spawn the disease. The fact that the lead exposure to the mice prompted side effects of larger lateral ventricles in the brain indicates that humans could be prone to similar reactions when exposed to certain chemicals.

Dr. Tomas R. Guilarte, a professor at Columbia and lead author of the study, believes that further research is truly necessary to determine what other chemicals could prompt cases of schizophrenia. 

"We're just scratching the surface," Guilarte said in a statement. "We used lead in this study, but there are other environmental toxins that disrupt the function of the NMDAR. The animal model provides a way forward to answer important questions about the physiological processes underlying schizophrenia."

Knowing possible displays of schizophrenic behavior
While the origins of the disease can be implemented in the brain before birth, general symptoms of schizophrenia are not necessarily displayed or developed until usually the late teens and early 20s. Catching these indications of side effects are essential toward receiving beneficial treatment. A few examples of physical symptoms of schizophrenia include:

  • Often displaying a blank, or vacant facial expression 
  • Complaints of overly acute senses, such as too much brightness or noises are too loud
  • Rigidity or jerky physical movements, such as involuntarily arm motions
  • Commonly reporting sleep disturbances, such as insomnia

While detecting these side effects are crucial toward further prevention, prescriptions to medicines such as Geodon are also proven to be beneficial toward mental health. Contact your doctor today to see if treatment is needed for your condition.